BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Ranchers in Montana are asking state officials to stop giving away water use rights to tens of thousands of new homes being built in areas once dominated by agriculture.

Across the arid West, residential subdivisions and agricultural interests are vying for control of water supplies that have emerged as one of the region's most coveted natural resources.

In the latest skirmish between the two groups, a group of Montana ranch owners on Tuesday filed a petition with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, charging the state's water rules were stacked against them.

The rules allow the small wells used by each house within larger subdivisions to qualify for exemptions from laws that otherwise give precedence to the "senior" rights of farms and ranches. Rancher Polly Rex says that's a loophole that could ultimately rob her of the means to grow hay and water her livestock.

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